IBM Smarter Commerce for Midsize Businesses – Future Trends

To help companies understand IBM’s Smarter Commerce initiative, the SMB Group and CRM Essentials are working on a series of posts discussing how technology is empowering today’s customer, and why companies have to change their approach in order to build strong relationships with them. This is the final post in the series.

Empowered customers are reshaping business today. They want a consistent experience between all channels. They compare notes and instantly share. And they can champion a brand or sully a reputation with the click of a mouse. In response to these trends, IBM Smarter Commerce helps companies manage and adapt their commerce processes, putting the customer at the center of their operations.

For this post, we had the opportunity to talk to Alisa Maclin, Vice President, IBM Smarter Commerce Marketing. We asked her about IBM’s views on some of the more nascent trends in this area that may not yet be on the radar for most midsize businesses–but have the potential to create significant shifts in how companies conduct commerce.

Q. While it may have been difficult to predict how radically social media or the rise of smartphones and tablets would affect commerce a few years ago, what are some of the technology trends likely to have a dramatic impact on commerce in the next 5 years or so?

A: We believe that the speed of technological innovation and consumer adoption will continue to accelerate for the next five years and beyond. This acceleration is driving entirely new business models that are changing the landscape between buyers and sellers. The traditional models of B2B and B2C will need to leverage technology to continue to improve efficiencies, while adapting to new models such as Social and Facebook Commerce. The empowered and connected consumer is driving the “consumerization” of business and the empowered citizen is increasingly digitally engaged and networked. For small and medium-sized businesses, the opportunity to embrace technology and the connected consumer is now.

Q: Is there a difference in what B2B and B2C businesses need to think about and do?

A: Yes and no, the lines separating B2B and B2C models are blurring. The empowered consumer looks for the same benefits of mobile and social technologies whether they are at work or at home or on the go. The result is a connected ‘consumer’ that has access to information looking to engage in new ways and do business both locally and globally to meet their needs.

B2B companies need to optimize their digital operations and transform how products and services are created, marketed, sold, delivered and serviced. For example, the influence of ‘self-service’ is universal in both B2C and B2B, with 56% of customers demanding increased self service when they do business with a company, according to Forrester Research in 2011. And, B2C companies need to really look at mobile and social as a ‘must have’ to compete and win their customers and keep them coming back.

Q: In addition to the impact of emerging technology, what other trends–economic, social, regulatory, etc.– do you see happening in the future that will impact how companies buy, market, sell and service?

A: Economic realities affect how companies operate, especially across the value chain. As the number of supply chain partners increases, the need for accurate, time-sensitive information becomes more acute. Many companies will turn to business intelligence and analytics on key control point indicators, such as orders versus forecasts and inventory in transit versus in stock, to move from “sense-and-respond” to “predict-and-act” organizations.

From a regulatory perspective, product lifecycle traceability in consumer products and other industries is a growing requirement. As product lifecycle traceability in many industries is becoming a major concern, the use of smart devices is likely to become more prevalent for tagging products wherever they are, as well as the containers and modes that are transporting them.

Q: How do you envision these changes affecting midsize businesses? What should they do to prepare and take advantage of them?

A: These changes will impact businesses of all sizes. No business is immune, and those that think they are will find themselves at a disadvantage. Midsize businesses can start to put the customer – the empowered customer – at the center of their commerce processes by taking these steps toward Smarter Commerce:

  • Listen to their clients to better understand and anticipate customer behavior and turn insight into action.
  • Adapt their sourcing of goods and services with a focus on customer demand, and orchestrate seamlessly among their trading partners and suppliers to serve that demand.
  • Personalize marketing and selling to your customers as much as possible and keep them coming back for more.
  • Evaluate service processes and learn from customers’ behavior to predict and take action.

Q. Do you think Smarter Commerce provides midsize companies a way to level the playing field–by helping them to establish a “virtual presence” in other countries without the physical infrastructure or physical presence?

A: Yes, in a flat world and global access at our fingertips – companies of any size can compete to win. But, just putting a virtual presence out there will not be enough. The key is customer satisfaction, which is tied directly to profitability. Data shows that for every customer who complains of poor service a company loses 10. And, it costs 6 to 7 times more to gain a new customer than to keep an existing one.

The way to stand out will be to incorporate customer-centricity into all your commerce processes. This is not a new concept… but in today’s marketplace it is the difference between thriving and going out of business.

Q: What are some of the things IBM is doing to help midsize companies stay ahead of the curve?

A: You’ll find that much of what we’re doing with our Smarter Commerce initiative is designed to help companies of all sizes to address these market changes. It focuses on three areas organizations need to address – customer insight, strategy and engagement. Companies need deep insight into customer behavior and needs – and the ability to anticipate and predict behavior to take immediate action. This insight, in turn, should drive the development and refinement of their customer value strategy – how to enhance, extend – and redefine value as viewed by the customer – and, the key here, is to do it profitably. And, finally, using that strategy to build customer engagement.

IBM works closely with its Business Partner network to drive this kind of change in the midmarket. For example, working with IBM Business Partner ExactTarget, Skymall was able to deliver more targeted e-mails using analytics-driven behavioral insights. This resulted in recapturing 3-5% of potentially lost revenue from abandoned carts, and helped Skymall to grow email-generated sales by 34%. Another example is RiverPoint, a systems integration consulting firm and IBM Business Partner. They helped The Society of Critical Care run more effective marketing campaigns. Combining IBM’s enterprise marketing management (EMM) software platform with RiverPoint’s best practices EMM consulting has enabled the client to experience a 2.4% positive change in membership attrition in the first year.

This is the final post in a series examining the evolution of the smarter customer and smarter commerce, and IBM’s Smarter Commerce solutions. For more information about how IBM Smarter Commerce is transforming midsize companies’ approach to commerce, visit IBM Smarter Commerce for the Midmarket.

Is Your Midsize Business Ready to Change Before You Have To? Gearing Up for the New Marketing

In conjunction with IBM’s Smarter Commerce initiative, the SMB Group and CRM Essentials are working on a series of posts discussing how technology is empowering today’s customer, and why companies have to change their approach in order to build strong relationships with them. This is the sixth post in the series.

Very few marketers would deny that marketing is in the midst of a sea change. As we’ve been discussing throughout this series, many businesses are struggling to keep up in our increasingly connected world. This rise of social media, a growing avalanche of data, and 24/7 access to new channels and devices that customers can use to learn about, shop for and buy goods and services is radically and irreversibly changing the world of marketing and commerce.

Given this reality, the central question is whether your business is preparing to ride the new wave–or is in danger of getting caught up in the turbulent undertow? In other words, to quote former GE CEO Jack Welch, are you ready to “change before you have to”? And, just how feasible is it for a small or midsize business to get ahead of the curve?

IBM’s 2011 IBM CMO study, From Stretched to Strengthened, took an in-depth look at how 1,734 Chief Marketing Officers (CMOs) (including a sample of midsize companies) are thinking about and dealing with these mega-changes.  It’s interesting to look at these results, and how one of the midsize companies that we spoke with recently is navigating through this transformation.

Top Market Forces and CMO Concerns and Readiness to Address Them

CMO study respondents of midsize companies are struggling with four major market forces: decreasing brand loyalty, the explosion of data, proliferation of channels and devices, and social media.

Unfortunately, change is difficult–and most CMOs feel ill-equipped to address these new requirements, as shown in Figure 1.

Figure 1: Percent of CMOs Reporting Underpreparedness

To me, this level of concern isn’t surprising. Social and technology changes are escalating at a breakneck pace, in an increasingly volatile world. Wrapping your head–let alone a marketing organization–around these rapid, often unpredictable changes isn’t for the faint of heart.

Charting a Course for Change

The good news is that the vast majority of CMOs see three key areas that they need to take action in to address theses challenges by:

  • Delivering value to empowered customers
  • Fostering lasting connections
  • Capturing value and measuring results

What does this really mean? Customers have always wanted companies to listen to them and to act on the input they provide. They’ve always wanted companies to value their time and their recommendations as well as their money. But today, technology gives customers better, faster access to information, people, products and services–giving them more control over the commerce process and enabling them to wield more influence with other buyers.

Customers increasingly expect anywhere, anytime, any-device access to information throughout the commerce cycle–from information gathering, evaluation and selection, to purchase and service. They expect vendors to do a better job of meeting–or even of anticipating–their needs. This means that vendors need to understand not only “the market” but individual customer requirements and preferences, and deliver solutions to attract, interact with, acquire and retain customers on a much more personal level.

In the digital age, this means that CMOs must develop automated processes to tap into multiple channels and customer touch points. And they need new analytics capabilities to gauge and tune marketing and commerce initiatives in an actionable way at a one-on-one level.

In a nutshell, CMOs and marketing organizations need to radically reinvent marketing with automated digital and analytical processes that help them to deliver more value to customers.

Taking a Proactive Approach

IBM’s study also revealed that CMOs in outperforming companies are more proactive than their peers in tackling these issues. These CMOs are investing now to better understand individual customers as well as markets, and using analytics to help them do a better job of zero in on customers’ needs to deliver a better experience and build customer loyalty.

For instance, CustomInk, a 300-employee custom t-shirt company, uses IBM Software for Enterprise Marketing Management, specifically IBM Coremetrics, to improve the customer experience and grow the business. CustomInk relies on a Coremetrics dashboard to monitor daily key performance indicators (KPIs), such as: What percentage of site visitors go to its Design Lab? How likely is a visitor to save a design? How do aesthetic changes improve conversion rates? CustomInk uses these metrics to determine what’s working and what isn’t. For example, if the percentage of customers who save a design is low, it may be because something is broken and the customer can’t load the design. Or there may be an overload of visitors from unqualified sources.

IBM software also provides CustomInk with the ability to monitor key paths through its site on a daily basis. This enables CustomInk to determine where people “fall off” on different paths. The company can see when changes it makes are beneficial, detrimental or neutral to customer behavior. For example, CustomInk has learned that small, aesthetic changes in color or type font, or changes in button styles or colors, can impact movement through the site and affect the drop-off rate.


CustomInk drives home the point that a company doesn’t have to be part of the Fortune 500 to ride the waves that these social and technological changes are ushering in. In fact, because SMBs can often act in a more agile and nimble fashion than large companies, they may actually have an advantage over larger companies.

However, any business must start by making a conscious decision to transform their marketing team for this customer-centric world, and develop a strategy that revolves around customer engagement and interactions. Some key questions to get started include:

  • How can the business use customer interactions to better anticipate and respond to requirements, and improve the customer experience?
  • What are the different customer and prospect touch points in your organization, and how can they be strengthened?
  • Do we know where customers and prospects are talking about your products and services, competitive brands and related industry trends?
  • How do we best bring customer conversations into the company to help us better serve their needs?
  • How will we measure and analyze the results of what we’re doing?
  • How can we make the information and insights we get actionable?
  • What skills and solutions will we need to achieve our goals?

While each company will have different goals, metrics and requirements, one thing is crystal clear: the art and the science of marketing is undergoing a radical change. CMOs and marketing organizations need to take a proactive approach to use them to their advantage.

This is the sixth in a series of blogs by SMB Group and CRM Essentials that examines the evolution of the smarter customer and smarter commerce, and IBM’s Smarter Commerce solutions. For more information about CMO perspectives on several issues, see the full results of IBM’s 2011 IBM CMO study, From Stretched to Strengthened.



Swimming with the Smarter Customer: The Speedo International Story

—by Laurie McCabe, SMB Group, in partnership with Brent Leary, CRM Essentials

Recently, Brent Leary and I had the opportunity to talk with Gareth Beer, Ecommerce Manager for Speedo International and learn about how Speedo International is applying smarter commerce philosophies and solutions to better serve its customers. We think Beer’s insights about Speedo’s experience in this area illustrate how important it is for a company to start with a strong vision for delivering a great customer experience–and how to execute to make that vision a reality.

 Start with the Customer

Anyone that’s ever been near a pool let alone belonged to a swim team knows the iconic Speedo swimwear brand. But, we do need to supply a bit more background to put this post in context for our discussion.

Speedo International is a subsidiary of Pentland Brands with headquarters and about 200 employees based in Nottingham, UK, and operations around the globe and sales in 180 countries. Up until 2008, Speedo International had been a traditional wholesale business, with retailers serving as its sole sales outlet to customers. The company had no desire to compete with its retail partners, but consumers were clamoring for better access to the full range of Speedo products, in all sizes and colors–which they couldn’t always find in their local stores.

Bringing Speedo International online was an obvious solution to providing customers with better access, but Speedo faced a dilemma common to many companies in this position–the threat of potential channel conflict. But as Beer told us, “Speedo understands that many customers will use the site to search, browse and add to the cart and ultimately buy at a local store.” Speedo’s goal is to give customers a place to search, browse and find information–and then purchase the product wherever they choose.

Zero in on Objectives

In line with these goals, Speedo International needed to create a site with detailed photos, images, descriptions, fitting guides, FAQs and videos of all Speedo products; the ability to purchase; and customer feedback mechanisms. Speedo had a jump-start because Pentland, its parent company, was already running IBM WebSphere Commerce for all of its companies, making this platform the natural choice for Speedo.

So Speedo’s ecommerce team got busy figuring out what analytics capabilities they wanted. They were looking for a solution that “would let us go to another level of thinking, beyond looking at visitors and traffic. We wanted to really understand the customer, how they behave, how they think and how they liked to be interacted with, so that we could optimize marketing, retention and recruitment,” according to Beer. The company also wanted the flexibility to gather and analyze new sources of information as requirements evolved.

After investigating different solutions, Speedo International selected IBM’s Coremetrics for several reasons. First, Coremetrics was available as subscription-based cloud service, and pre-integrated with WebSphere Commerce, which meant that Speedo didn’t need to spend time on technical implementation and integration.

More important, Beer advised us, was that “all the data is in one place and we have a common interface across the 12 Coremetrics modules we use. Other vendors have similar tools, but with Coremetrics, we get the different capabilities we need, from measuring the effectiveness of pay-per-click campaigns to creating personalized interactions with top customers.

Create a Virtuous Cycle

Some of the many ways Speedo uses Coremetrics are to:

  • Track KPIs for sales, orders, visitors, stock and margins, and its consumer index score, which rates customer experience with Speedo.
  • Gauge the effectiveness of pay-per-click campaigns and retargeting efforts.
  • Get a clear view of who the customer is, how they behave, and how they like to be spoken to.
  • Set and meet service level agreements to pick, pack and dispatch orders.

As a result, Beer’s team can deliver feedback to business decision makers more rapidly. “We can quickly pick up on trends, what’s working, what’s not, what colors and styles people like or don’t like. Then the business can make better commercial decisions faster,” Beer told us.

Using the Coremetrics Lifecycle module, Speedo also gains a complete view of its top customers, which enables it to do things such as offer more personal attention and rewards, and encourage them to post more ratings and reviews. In turn, this gives Speedo more data to feed back to the business, turn top customers into advocates, and generate more business.

Speedo International has held fast to its pledge not to compete with its retailers on price. However, about 15% of Speedo’s customers pay a premium to buy on the Speedo site. Speedo’s research indicates that these customers buy on direct because of the exceptional customer service experience that Speedo delivers–facilitated to a large extent by WebSphere Commerce and Coremetrics.

A Work in Progress

Speedo International launched a Facebook page about 18 months ago. It uses Coremetrics to make sure that Facebook information jives with information on its estore, and to track how many people go to the estore from Facebook. Speedo can append Facebook images, URLs, etc. with tags which feed into Coremetrics. Using these tags, Speedo can also create special product offers, or have people vote on colors on Facebook, and see how many people come to the estore as a result of these campaigns.

One of the most compelling parts of Speedo’s strategy that Beer discussed with us is to “put any Speedo store on top of WebSphere Commerce, and have one place underneath as a common foundation for all stock and inventory management.” In 2012, Speedo plans to launch a new Facebook store, a new mobile store and create stores in key European countries with localized content, currency and language. The unified WebSphere Commerce foundation will ensure consistency and continuity of the customer shopping experience across these different sites.

Summing Up

Beer summed up his perspective by saying “the business is all about the customer. We need to be in as many channels as customers are in and align them as closely as we can–whether the customer is on smart phone, iPad or in a brick and mortar store. The goal is to have consistency and visibility across these channels and heighten our understanding of the customer.”

We couldn’t have said it better.

This is the fifth of a six-part series by SMB Group and CRM Essentials that examines the evolution of the smarter customer and smarter commerce, and IBM’s Smarter Commerce solutions. 

What Can We Learn From This Year’s Holiday Season?

—by Brent Leary, CRM Essentials

In conjunction with IBM’s Smarter Commerce initiative, the SMB Group and CRM Essentials are working on a series of posts discussing how technology is empowering today’s customer, and why companies have to change their approach in order to build strong relationships with them. This is the fourth post in the series.

Christmas 2011 is a great example of Smarter Commerce in action.  It’s a lesson in why businesses need to transform the way they market and sell their products and services.  According to the National Retail Federation, retail industry sales for the 2011 holiday season increased 4.1 percent year-over-year to $471.5 billion, beating its expectation of 3.8 percent growth.  And while the overall numbers probably made for a pleasant holiday for the industry as a whole, what was happening online was astounding:

  • US online holiday shopping season reaches a record $37.2 billion, up 15 Percent vs. 2010 – a rate of increase almost 4X higher than the overall rate for retail.
  • A post-holiday 2011 retail study from Kabbage, Inc. focusing on small-to-medium online merchants found 69% of respondents reporting increased sales. On average, study participants experienced a 32% hike in sales compared to the 2010 season.
  • As late as one week before Christmas 2011, one-quarter of consumers hadn’t even started holiday shopping. (Consumer Reports)
  • 93% of retailers have offered free shipping at some point during the season vs. 85% last year. (USA Today)
  • The 2011 US Holiday Season edition of the ForeSee Results E-Retail Satisfaction Index of the top forty Internet retailers increased by a point from 78 to 79 (on a scale of 1-100)
  • Almost one in four retail searches online on Christmas Day were made using mobile phones or tablet devices, according to the British Retail Consortium (BRC).
  • The number of adults in the United States who own tablets and e-readers nearly doubled from mid-December to early January, according to a new Pew Research study. (New York Times)

Technology’s Impact on Behavior Is Accelerating

The world is changing.  While still a fraction of the overall sales figures, ecommerce is growing at a much faster rate than traditional retail.  And not just for the big retailers.  As the Kabbage study illustrates, small and midsize online retailers enjoyed tremendous growth as well.  This in part stems from the effect technology is having on the customer buying process, and the ability of companies to adapt their business processes to support online shopping.

When you think about twenty-five percent of shoppers not starting their Christmas shopping until after December 18th, it really hits home how the process of shopping has changed.  Five to ten years ago most people still were going to multiple stores in search of ideas for things to buy, to find recommendations, compare items, and to look for deals, so they had to start their shopping efforts earlier.  Now they can do most of that online – with a lot less time involved.  And from the online retailer’s perspective, they leverage the latest technology not only to provide this information to online shoppers, but also to deliver the goods on time as well.  Jewelry specialist Blue Nile offered free FedEx shipping guaranteed to arrive by Saturday, December 24, for all orders placed as late as 7 p.m. the day before (Friday, December 23). And other online retailers offered similar shipping capabilities.

This all adds up to shoppers more efficiently finding what they want, knowing the price they want to pay and having the confidence of getting it in time – with the added benefit of not having to wrestle with issues like parking, crowded malls, weather etc..  And as both companies and consumers accelerate their technology adoption, look for ecommerce to steadily increase its portion of the retail pie while customers leverage social and mobile to decrease the time and effort it takes to buy things.

Technology’s Impact on Behavior is Dramatically Affecting Expectations

One of the more interesting developments is how technology is impacting customer expectations as well as their behavior.  Now that companies like Amazon can get items to us in two days for free, we expect this kind of service all the time.  And while 93% of them did offer free shipping at some point during the holiday season, a study also showed 73% of consumers recently surveyed by MarketLive named “free returns” as a top promotion in determining their online purchasing behavior.

This is a great example of customers understanding what technology can do, and expecting vendors to find ways to leverage it to continuously improve their shopping experience.  And improving the experience is crucial to keeping customers satisfied.  According to the ForeSee study, satisfaction scores are important because a one-point change in website satisfaction can predict a 14% change in revenues generated on the web.  And when they were highly satisfied with a purchase:

–   64% of survey responders said they were more likely to buy from the same company the next time they needed a similar product;

–   67% were more inclined to recommend the company to others; and

–   65% felt a sense of ‘brand commitment’.

This illustrates that investing in improving customers’ web experience is a terrific way to build brand loyalty and capture the benefits of viral marketing (or something like this).

A Christmas Carol…

You really don’t have to look much further than Christmas Day 2011 to see how technology has changed customer behaviors and expectations.  Digital content & subscriptions (digital downloads of music, TV, movies, e-books and apps) accounted for more than 20 percent of sales on Christmas Day. On any other day of the holiday season, that number was only 2.8%.  And these numbers were driven by the rise of mobile devices, with the iPad leading the way on Christmas Day with a staggering 7% of all online sales coming through just that one device – accounting for 50% of sales that day, according to the IBM Coremetrics Benchmark.

While the numbers tell the story, it really hits home personally when I saw my parents (both octogenarians) sitting at the kitchen table Christmas Day  – my father with his iPad, and my mother with her Kindle Fire.  And my mother, having received the Fire as a gift, was reading an ebook she purchased Christmas morning… with an Amazon gift card.

This is a totally different story of Christmas than Charles Dickens told in the 19th century, but it’s a tale of what to expect in the 21st century when it comes to customer engagement.  Because of technology and its empowering effect on customers, they are developing “great expectations” their vendors must live up to.  Which means vendors must be smarter in their approach to smarter, more informed customers.

This is the fourth of a six-part blog series by SMB Group and CRM Essentials that examines the evolution of the smarter customer and smarter commerce, and IBM’s Smarter Commerce solutions. In our next post, we’ll look at key points to consider when planning a smarter commerce strategy. In our next post, we’ll look at IBM’s Smarter Commerce offerings to help illustrate how midsize companies can reshape the way they do business to meet the expectations and needs of smarter customers.

Smarter Commerce for the Midmarket: An Interview with IBM’s Ron Kline

In conjunction with IBM’s Smarter Commerce initiative, the SMB Group and CRM Essentials are working on a series of posts discussing how technology is empowering today’s customer, and why companies have to change their approach in order to build strong relationships with them. This is the third post in the series, which is a summarize transcript of the podcast series that Brent Leary of CRM Essentials and Sanjeev Aggarwal, of SMB Group recorded with Ron Kline, director of marketing for IBM’s midmarket division, about IBM’s Smarter Commerce solutions for SMBs. If you’d like to listen to the recorded podcast series, click here.

Brent Leary:  We’re really excited to talk to Ron Kline, director of marketing for IBM’s midmarket division. Ron, before we jump into the Smarter Commerce Imitative, IBM has been doing so much around this whole idea of a Smarter Planet, can you talk a little bit about the big picture of the Smarter Planet initiative.

Ron Kline:  Sure. What we mean by Smarter Planet is that the world we live in is becoming smarter. Everything around us is becoming more and more instrumented, and that allows us to measure really almost anything.

Think about it: there are over a billion transistors for every person on the planet. Over 30 billion RFID tags are embedded across the supply chain around the world. Everything is becoming instrumented.  Supply chains, health care networks, even natural systems like our rivers.  As a result of being able to measure and instrument from various touch points, the world becomes much more inter-connected and intelligent. By measuring and connect this information, you can build a more intelligent planet – one that can respond much more quickly to change.

Take an example like in San Francisco where they’ve launched a parking system so you can see what parking spaces are available throughout the city and determine where there is an open place to park. I actually have this app on my iPhone now. With the next step, you’ll be able to pay for your parking using your smartphone as the payment device.

Sanjeev Aggarwal:  Thanks Ron. So what is Smarter Commerce, and how does it fit into the bigger Smarter Planter picture?

Ron Kline:  Smarter Commerce is about how we deliver the customer experience using all of the insights that we are gaining about our clients and supply chain to provide a much better customer experience.

For example, you used to just go out and buy a car, or a company would just order parts from a supplier. But as consumers got more information at their fingertips, they could start to get price comparisons online and hear what other people had to say about a particular product before they go shop. Things have quickly moved on to include people sharing information and opinions on social networking sites and blogs.

Smarter Commerce helps you maximize the insight that you generate through customer interactions, whether in the store, over the web, from smart devices – what is being said out in social communities and taking that insight and pulling it together to improve the customer experience. Then you can tailor your offerings to what a customer is interested in.  You can improve profitability by targeting the right offerings to the right customer at the right time, or by reducing the cost of returns, restocking, and supply chain expense by having to handle reverse logistics because you just didn’t know what the customer was looking for. The bottom line is improving the overall customer experience and living up to customer expectations.

We sort that into four big buckets, but it all comes down to customer experience. It’s the marketing, how do I target and personalize my marketing?  Yes, to get better yield out of my marketing dollar but really to have a better experience for my customers – so that I am providing relevant, targeted, offerings or information. Then, how do I manage that whole sales process, fulfillment across stores, the web, social sites. And customer service has to span all of the touch points. It’s not enough to have a customer service department anymore, customer service is something that a client experiences when he is buying a product or shopping for a product and when he is looking for additional service. On the internal side,  how do I control the procurement of goods and source the goods. I can have a smarter procurement process and a smarter supply chain process only if I know really more about my customer.

Brent Leary:  Talk a little bit about who should care about Smarter Commerce in an organization and why they should care about it.

Ron Kline:  Well, the customers care about it, so therefore, all of us as businesses need to care about it.  It’s something that any business of any size really needs to focus on.  It’s just as important for small and midsize businesses to deliver a superior customer experience as it is for a large enterprise.  In fact, Smarter Commerce and Smarter Planet can help level the playing field for midsize companies. In this environment, it’s all about building a more loyal customer, understanding that customer better, and then being able to deliver a better experience.

Sanjeev Aggarwal:  Can you give us an example of how a midsize company is using Smarter Commerce today and what type of results they are achieving?

Ron Kline:  Sure. One example I find pretty interesting is Elie Tahari, a high fashion clothing designer and retailer. Nobody is more focused on appealing to the tastes and the emotions of their customers, but those tastes can change very quickly and a manufacturer who is caught with too much of yesterday’s style has got a lot of money tied up in inventory that is out of date.

Elie Tahari implemented an IBM Cognos solution that allows them to have a unified view of all of the information available from their different systems to make better decisions about what the market is saying and what specific customer needs are.

So now, instead of following what was a typical practice in the retailing industry–sending stores the same distribution of sizes based on historical information across the country–Elie Tahari has insight from their customer data for each particular store over a period of time. They can say, the distribution looks a little different over here, and distribute accordingly. It’s a better customer experience because the chances of being out of stock had been reduced. It saves money on costs of returns or discounting to try to move product that is not selling, either because you don’t have the right style in stock or you have to return it back to the parent company because you ordered too many of one size. This has enabled them to improve the customer experience, and on the supply chain side, they don’t end up with too much of the wrong type of thing.

Another example is BJU Press, a publisher in the United States that provides home schooling materials for kids in the K-12 age group.  They have developed a web store front end with an IBM partner, CrossView, using WebSphere Commerce, and Coremetrics, a web analytics application. Now they can provide customers with an easier online experience to search for products, continually improve that search experience.

In both cases, IBM and its patterns were able to not only improve the customer experience, but also the economics for the company as well.

Brent Leary:  Ron, those are some great examples, but how is IBM making Smarter Commerce accessible to the SMB market?

Ron Kline:  In fact, the examples that I gave you are midsize companies. They have the same pain points as larger companies; they just haven’t had the ability to address it in the past because a lot of the technology and solutions were out of reach.

IBM has bridged that gap in a of couple ways.  One way is to provide offerings that are built and designed for the midmarket.  We have a process in IBM to insure that the offerings that we bring to market for this customer segment are built and priced appropriately for midsize companies.  An example, Unica Email Optimization [OnDemand] Solution is $1,500 a month for running up to twenty-five events.  It’s very a very affordable solution with a lot of really great technology in it.  Unica Marketing Operations [OnDemand] is another one, marketing operations on demand is $6,000 per year for up to ten seats.  These are very much within the range of a midsize company, and provide the kind of analytics and insights that help a company deliver this Smarter Commerce experience.

We’ve also learned that customers are looking for local trusted advisors and that’s where IBM’s investment in a very large partner ecosystem has helped bring the IBM technology to these midsize companies through local business partners.

Sanjeev Aggarwal:  How does an SMB that wants to learn more about this get started?

Ron Kline:  Absolutely, first of all, you can talk to your local business partner because they are the trusted advisor for you there locally.  At you can learn about what Smarted Commerce is and get a bigger picture view of what other customers are doing in this area and how they are benefiting, and of course, what our offerings are.

Brent Leary:  Ron thanks so much for your time today and explaining what Smarter Commerce is all about, thanks again.

Ron Kline:  My pleasure, thank you very much.

This is the third of a six-part blog series by SMB Group and CRM Essentials that examines the evolution of the smarter customer and smarter commerce, and IBM’s Smarter Commerce solutions. In our next post, we’ll talk about how Speedo International is serving smarter customers with Smarter Commerce solutions. In the meantime, please share with us the successes you’ve had and the challenges you face in adapting your business to better serve smarter customers.

Are You Ready? Transforming Your Business for the Smarter Customer

—by Laurie McCabe, SMB Group

In conjunction with IBM’s Smarter Commerce initiative, the SMB Group and CRM Essentials are working on a series of posts discussing how technology is empowering today’s customer, and why companies have to change their approach in order to build strong relationships with them. This is the second post in the series.

Many businesses feel like they’re in an uphill race to keep up in our increasingly connected world. With social media sites and conversations multiplying like rabbits, and 24/7 access to learn about, shop for and buy stuff on mobile devices, the world of commerce is radically and irreversibly changing.

Businesses that want to keep growing must keep learning and embrace change. As much as we like the show, the Mad Men tactics to push out messages and information to customers to entice them to buy will no longer suffice. Think about it:

  • In February 2005, just 5% of all U.S. adults said they used social media sites.
  • In 2011, according to a Pew Internet & American Life Project, 65% of adults use a social networking site like Facebook or LinkedIn, and 35% use smartphones.

Today, social media and mobile are the changes that businesses need to embrace. Businesses must find better ways to listen and engage with customers—when, where and how they want—to more accurately gauge needs, provide better service and strengthen customer loyalty.

If you’re in the same boat as many midsize companies, however, embracing the change isn’t easy—even when you know it’s the right thing to do and want to do it. You didn’t get to the point of having 500 or 1,000 employees overnight. You have existing processes and systems that probably weren’t designed for this much more connected, interactive world of commerce.

For instance, in the past, sales and marketing have often focused more on pushing out messages to the market rather than actively listening to and engaging with customers to understand their wants and needs. The focus has been to move the customer through the pipeline, close business and push out information to get him or her to come back and buy more.

Thanks to the explosion of social and mobile technologies, however, things aren’t so neat and tidy anymore. The number of social sites and conversations is multiplying exponentially, and customers are more vocal. With mobile access, people can join the conversation, evaluate solutions and make purchases from any place and at any time. And their expectations are rising: They expect companies to be as agile in responding to their needs as they are in voicing them. They want things faster, on the devices they use; and if they don’t get what they want from Business A, they’ll just go to Business B.

A great example here is Blockbuster, which used to own the movie rental business. Then Netflix came on the scene, giving customers a more convenient way to rent movies than Blockbuster, first with its DVD-by-mail business, and then with video streaming. Netflix had the added twist of enabling users to rate movies and then receive recommendations for other films they might like—with a focus on delighting its customers. Meanwhile, Blockbuster stuck to its traditional model too long, was late to the game and ended up filing for bankruptcy—although it has recently been purchased by DISH Network and could rise again if it can create an edge in deciphering and responding to customers’ needs.

But it’s not just big companies that are tuning in to the smarter customer. For instance, my hair salon promotes its Facebook page to customers, and every day it posts any unbooked appointments for hair styling, coloring, facials, manicures, etc. on its wall. Customers such as myself that “like” the salon see these appointments each morning—and can book the open slots for 20% off! It’s a win-win: I get a great discount and my salon fills the slot. Another case in point is the medical practice that my family uses. The practice recently deployed an SMS text messaging service and started to offer patients the choice of being reminded of scheduled appointments via a traditional phone call or via a text. It’s in the early stage, but they’re finding that most patients prefer the texts—and that fewer patients are no-shows when they get a text reminder.

While monitoring and engaging in social media conversations is a great start, the area is so new that social media monitoring is often siloed and separate from traditional CRM, procurement or other systems—and the people who use them. If this is the case in your business, you’ve probably experienced disconnects between customer demand and your ability to satisfy it—and as a result, your business may have missed opportunities and lost revenues.

The mandate is clear: You need to adjust business processes to market to, sell to and service customers on their terms, consistently across all channels, to survive and thrive through this sea change. In a nutshell, work smarter. But how? While the die isn’t yet fully cast, we see several key points to consider when creating a transformational plan:

1.     Start with a strategy, not tools and technologies. The strategy should revolve around customer engagement and interaction. Different businesses will have different goals, depending on their particular needs, but are likely to include things such as maximizing the insights you get from customer interactions to better anticipate and respond to requirements; improving the customer experience; and improving decision-making efficiency throughout the commerce cycle. Think about the different customer and prospect touch points in your organization and how you can strengthen them, incorporating both internal and external input into the process.

2.     Consider how you’ll get the voice of the customer into the company. Does your company know where customers and prospects are talking about your brand, competitive brands and related industry trends? Are you participating in these conversations? Social media monitoring and management solutions can help you identify and manage outbound and incoming online interactions more efficiently. They streamline and consolidate relevant conversations from different places—blogs, social networks and other public and private web communities and sites. They help you to more easily monitor what people are saying about your business. And automating the process of delivering outgoing messages through multiple social media outlets can help you to amplify your presence across several social media sites.

3.     Determine how you’ll make social information actionable and measure outcomes. Getting information into the hands of marketing and sales people, product managers, developers or inventory managers is critical. Businesses need to get the data in a way they can use it, say to run a marketing campaign, close deals or better manage inventory. Information and analysis tools should also be integrated with existing CRM, supply chain or other systems—instead of siloed—so business users can see results, adjust and improve.

4.     Make consistency a priority. Providing customers with a consistent experience across channels is key. Whether they want to buy online, via a mobile device or in a retail outlet, the goal is to provide the best user experience. This means you need to make it easy for users to shop and buy where and when they want. It also means giving your partners an easy on-ramp to sell and support your products. Provide partners with the capabilities they need so that your customers can have a universally exceptional experience, regardless of which channel they buy from.

This is the second of a six-part blog series by SMB Group and CRM Essentials that examines the evolution of the smarter customer and smarter commerce, and IBM’s Smarter Commerce solutions. In our next post, we’ll talk to Ron Kline, director of marketing for IBM’s mid-market division, for an overview of IBM’s Smarter Commerce solutions for SMBs. In the meantime, please share with us the successes you’ve had and the challenges you face in adapting your business to better serve smarter customers.

Becoming a Smarter Customer

—by Brent Leary, CRM Essentials, in partnership with SMB Group

In conjunction with IBM’s Smarter Commerce initiative, the SMB Group and CRM Essentials are working on a series of posts discussing how technology is empowering today’s customer, and why companies have to change their approach in order to build strong relationships with them.  This is the first in the series, and was based on a couple recent experiences of Brent Leary of CRM Essentials. The last example is really Brent’s dad’s experience using his iPad – which is the one that really brings it all home…so to speak.

I recently bought a new video camera—a Panasonic AG-HMC150. This was a pretty significant purchase for me because it represents a step up into the semi-pro leagues, as I’m planning to do some documentary style programs. I kicked off my buying process with two things: a question and a search.

I posed a question to my friends first. A few people I know do this professionally, so they were my first stop. And because I posed my question to them on Facebook and Twitter using a couple of hash tags, I received their valuable feedback along with great information from people I’m connected to but didn’t know were knowledgeable about video production. On top of that, I received even more valuable information from people I wasn’t connected to, but who saw my question due to the hash tags I used. So within a matter of minutes, I had a great deal of information to sift through to help me with my big buying decision.

While the feedback was pouring in from my social network, I also took to Google to find product information on video cameras. I found links to review sites, informative blog posts and videos comparing the various aspects of cameras to help me with my decision. I went to manufacturer sites to get specs, and followed that up with trips to CNET for in-depth reviews. All this was topped off by finding a few great online communities created by enthusiasts who are passionate about video production, and in some cases about specific cameras—like the Panasonic AG-HMC150 community on Vimeo.

Within a few days, I went from not knowing what to get, to feeling very confident in selecting the right camera for my needs. I also found a community of knowledgeable, experienced people who I could learn from and collaborate with to help me not only with my buying decision, but also with my video production activities. Once I decided which camera to buy, I used the web to find the right place to buy it. My newfound community recommended a company based on their previous interactions with it.

While this is just my personal experience, individual examples like mine are being replicated all over the web as social, cloud and mobile technologies help connect us to the people and information we need in order to find solutions when we need them. It’s what is driving hundreds of millions of people to spend a growing amount of time on Facebook, Twitter and other social networks. With these social networks becoming collaborative platforms, and with smart mobile devices providing access from anywhere, we can build and extend relationships to people and information in ways that truly improve how we experience life.

One thing I love to experience every year is watching college basketball’s national tournament, also known as March Madness. I’m not alone, as this is annually one of the highest rated television events of the year. But this year I was even more into the tournament than ever before.

For the first time, every game was shown on one of four television networks. But the big reason I had a much better tournament experience had to do with the free apps for both the iPad and iPhone that streamed all games live—giving me a choice of seeing any game from wherever I happened to be.

Not only did the mobile apps make it possible to stream any game, they also made it possible to keep track of brackets, share information with my Facebook and Twitter friends, and participate in ongoing tournament conversations. The Social Arena, available through mobile apps and multiple websites, provided me with a non-stop flow of tournament information, including insights from on-air personalities like Charles Barkley. The Social Bracket allowed me to vote on who I thought would win each game, but it also tallied up all the votes to see how the overall viewing community picked the games. Finally, the NCAA and Turner Broadcasting hired people to use social media monitoring tools to analyze the chatter taking place around the tournament, in order to provide insights into what was driving conversations.

Now even if I didn’t have the social and mobile apps, I would have been watching the tournament. But because I love all my mobile devices as much as I love watching the games, I experienced March Madness in a way I couldn’t possibly have done in years past. And, as you might have guessed, I’m not the only one who likes both basketball and mobile devices, as you can see from the numbers below:

  • March Madness On Demand (MMOD) was the #1 free app for both the iPhone and iPad in the App Store during the first two days of availability.
  • 36% of all streams were from the iPad and iPhone apps the first weekend of the tournament.
  • The mobile apps averaged 683,000 daily unique users.
  • An average of 67.5 minutes per daily unique visitor was spent streaming MMOD on broadband.
  • The broadband site averaged 3.8 million daily unique visitors.

Turner was able to leverage our love of social/mobile tools to provide viewers with a whole new level of engagement with the tournament. And, as Fast Company magazine stated in an article about the project, Turner is fit to deliver “a true revolution in sports. And in return they’ll get audience data, captivity and flexibility like no sports broadcasting has ever seen before.” As a side note, television ratings were the best they’ve been in 15 years.

It is clear today that people depend heavily on social networks and mobile technology. Now, more people have accounts on social networks than they have email accounts, and mobile device sales are poised to surpass combined desktop/laptop sales within the next year in the United States. Google+, a network only a couple of months old, already has more than 25 million users sharing over 1 billion pieces of content daily. The ease of content creation and distribution has led us into the age of the zettabyte (with 21 zeroes after the “1”)—which is the amount of information estimated to be available to us online today.

It’s not just the younger generations that are heavily dependent on these technologies. Baby Boomers, and people from earlier generations, are also adopting these tools. I know this from firsthand experience, watching my soon-to-be 80-year-old father using his iPad to do things he had never done before on his desktop computer. He reads books, listens to NPR, watches videos and shares information with his siblings on Facebook—and even Twitter. He uses Bank of America’s app to do his banking. He shops on and Apple’s App Store. He even mentioned reading a few of my blog posts, something I can’t remember him doing before.

Quite honestly, my father loves his iPad because it allows him to easily do so much more. And these tools enable today’s customer to do and experience more than imagined just a few short years ago. But, the fact that customers are smarter today has more to do with having better technology at their disposal than being brainier. Customers have always wanted more information and access to the right people. They have always wanted to be listened to, and have their ideas incorporated into developing better products and services. They’ve also wanted to be valued beyond the financial transaction that they bring to a company’s bottom line.

And now, because technology has empowered them to get together, share experiences and amplify their collective voice, customers expect companies to engage them with these new tools and communication channels. As customers leverage social and mobile technologies to improve their knowledge and life experiences, they will look to build relationships with businesses that will do the same. Well, at least my father and I will.

This is the first of a six-part blog series by SMB Group and CRM Essentials that examines the evolution of the smarter customer and smarter commerce, and IBM’s Smarter Commerce solutions. In our next post, we’ll look at key points businesses need to consider to best serve the smarter customer. In the meantime, we’d love to hear how you’re using the web, mobile and social technologies to become a smarter customer.